This judgment was delivered by a two-judge bench of Honourable Supreme Court of India on 11th July 1996. The two-judge bench consisted of Justice AS Anand and Justice MK Mukherjee. In this criminal appeal, the accused has appealed against the State of Andhra Pradesh before the Supreme Court.
The relevant act/sections thus are:
(1) Dowry Prohibition Act, 1991- Section 4
(2) Indian Penal Code, 1860- Section 420
(3) Indian Evidence Act, 1872- Section 45
Brief Facts and Procedural History
The appellant (hereinafter the first accused) is the younger brother of the petitioner (hereinafter the second accused). The first accused had been selected for Indian Police Service and was undergoing training in the year 1985 and on completion of the training was posted as an Assistant Superintendent of Police in Jammu & Kashmir Police force. His brother, the second accused, was at the relevant time working with the Osmania University at Hyderabad.
Narayana Reddy, the complainant, was practising as a lawyer at Hyderabad. He has four daughters, Ms Vani is the eldest among the four daughters. Narayana Reddy was looking for marriage alliance for his daughter Ms Vani. A proposal to get Ms Vani married to the first accused was made by, Lakshma Reddy, a common friend between them. Later on, Lakshma Reddy introduced the second accused to Narayana Reddy, who later on also met Ms Vani and approved of the match.
It is alleged that on 6.5.1985, the second accused accompanied by Lakshma Reddy and some others went to the house of Narayana Reddy to pursue the talks regarding marriage. There were some talks regarding giving of dowry and the terms were finally agreed between them on 7.5.1985 at the house of the second accused. The first accused was not present either on 6.5.1985 or on 7.5.1985. It is alleged that as per the terms settled between the parties, G. Narayana Reddy agreed to give to his daughter (1) house at Hyderabad (2) jewels, cash and clothes worth about at rupees one lakh and (3) a sum of Rs. 50,000 in cash for the purchase of a car. The date of marriage, however, was to be fixed after consulting the first accused.
The first accused came to Hyderabad from Dehradun on 6.8.1985 and stayed at Hyderabad till 15.8.1985. The first accused attended the birthday party of the youngest sister of Ms Vani on 15.8.1985 and later on sent a bank draft of Rs. 100 as the birthday gift for her to Ms Vani. In the letter Ex.P1 which accompanied the bank draft, some reference was allegedly made regarding the settlement of dowry. It is alleged that the first accused later on wrote several letters including exhibits P6, P7, P9 and P10 to Ms Vani. It is the prosecution case that the second accused, on being approached by Narayana Reddy for fixing the date of marriage, demanded Rs. 1 lakh instead of Rs. 50,000 for the purchase of a car. The second accused also insisted that the said amount should be paid before marriage.
The ‘dowry’ talks between the second accused and Narayana Reddy, however, remained inconclusive; Later on the date of marriage was fixed as 2.11.1985. On 1.10.1985, the first accused allegedly wrote a letter, exhibit P6, to Ms Vani asking her to cancel the date of marriage or to fulfil the demands made by his elders. The first accused came to Hyderabad on 20.10.1985 when Narayana Reddy told him about the demand of additional payment of Rs. 50,000 made by the second accused of the purchase of a car. The first accused told Narayana Reddy that he would consult his brother and inform him about it and left for his native place.
It is alleged that on his return from the village, the first accused asked Narayana Reddy to give Rs. 75,000 instead of Rs. 50,000 as agreed upon earlier instead of Rs. 1 lakh as demanded by the second accused. According to the prosecution case, this talk took place in the presence of Shri Narasinga Rao (not examined). The first accused suggested that P.W. I should give Rs. 50,000 immediately towards the purchase of the car and the balance of Rs. 25,000 should be paid within one year after the marriage but Narayana Reddy did not accept the suggestion.
According to the prosecution case, ‘Varapuja’ was performed by Narayana Reddy and his other relatives at the house of the second accused on 31.10.1985. At that time Narayana Reddy allegedly handed over to the first accused, a document Exhibit P-13 dated 12.10.1985, purporting to settle a house in the name of his daughter Mr Vani along with a bank passbook, Exhibit P-12 showing a cash balance of Rs. 50,881 in the name of Ms Vani. The first accused is reported to have, after examining the document Exhibit P-13, flared up saying that the settlement was for a Double Storeyed House and the document purporting to settle the house in the name of Ms Vani was only a single storey building. He threatened to get the marriage cancelled if Narayana Reddy failed to comply with the settlement as arrived at on the earlier occasions. The efforts of Narayana Reddy to persuade the first accused not to cancel the marriage did not yield any results and ultimately the marriage did not take place. The first accused then returned all the articles that had been given to him at the time of ‘Varapuja’.
Aggrieved, by the failure of the marriage negotiations, Narayana Reddy on 22.1.1986 sent a complaint to the Director of National Police Academy where the first accused was undergoing training. Subsequently, Narayana Reddy also went to the Academy to meet the Director when he learnt from the personal assistant to the Director of the Academy that the first accused was getting married to another girl on 30th of March, 1986 at Bolaram and showed to him the wedding invitation card. Narayana Reddy, thereupon, gave another complaint to the director on 26.3.1986, who, however, advised him to approach the concerned police for necessary action. Narayana Reddy filed a report Ex.P20 at Chikkadapalli Police Station on 28.3.1986. The Inspector of Police P.W. 7, registered the complaint as Crime Case No. 109/1986 and took up the investigation. During the investigation, various letters purported to have been written by the first accused to Ms Vani were sent to the handwriting expert P.W. 3 who gave his opinion regarding the existence of similarities between the specimen writings of the first accused and the disputed writings. Both the first accused and his brother, the second accused, were thereafter charge-sheeted and tried for offences punishable under Section 420 I.P.C. read with an offence punishable under Section 4 of the Act.
The appellant along with his brother was tried for offences under Section 420 I.P.C. read with Section 4 Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The trial court convicted them both and sentenced them to undergo 9 months of rigorous imprisonment and to a fine of Rs. 500 each. In an appeal against their sentence and conviction, the Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge held that no offence under Section 420 I.P.C. was made out and set aside their conviction and sentence for the said offence while confirming their conviction and sentence for the offence under Section 4 of the Act. Both the convicts unsuccessfully invoked the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court. Both of them have now approached the honourable supreme court of India through a special leave.
Ratio of the court(As given by Justice AS Anand)
The Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961 was enacted to curb the evil of dowry. The Act intended to prohibit the giving or taking of dowry and makes its ‘demand’ by itself also an offence under Section 4 of the Act.
Section 4 of the Act aims at discouraging the very “demand” of “dowry” as a ‘consideration for the marriage’ between the parties thereto and lays down that if any person after the commencement of the Act, “demands”, directly or indirectly, from the parents or guardians of a ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom’, as the case may be, any ‘dowry’, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may, extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs. 5,000 or with both. Thus, it would be seen that Section 4 makes punishable the very demand of property or valuable security as a consideration for marriage, which demand, if satisfied, would constitute the graver offence under Section 3 of the Act.
The legislature while providing for the definition of ‘dowry’ emphasised that any money, property or valuable security given, as a consideration for marriage, ‘before, at or after’ the marriage would be covered by the expression ‘dowry’ and this definition as contained in Section 2 has to be read wherever the expression ‘dowry’ occurs in the Act. Meaning of the expression ‘dowry’ as commonly used and understood is different than the peculiar definition therefore under the Act. Where definition has been given in a statute itself, it is neither proper nor desirable to look to the dictionaries etc. to find out the meaning of the expression. The definition given in the statute is the determinative factor. The act is a piece of social legislation which aims to curb down the evil of dowry and thus it also punishes the demand of dowry. Dowry Protection Act though it is a social legislation it is also a peal statute which is required to be construed strictly.
According to the Supreme Court, the high court has erred in accepting the evidence of the G. Narayana Reddy. The Supreme Court held that the critical analysis of the evidence given by Narayana Reddy yields that the evidence is rather difficult to accept without any independent corroboration. There is no corroboration available on the record as even Shri Narsingh Rao has not been examined.
Further, there is no satisfactory evidence on the record to show that the appellant cancelled the marriage on account of non-fulfilment of dowry demand allegedly made by him. The evidence of Mr Reddy, who is the sole witness, suffers from serious inconsistencies and exaggerations. He admittedly is the most interested person to establish his case. He is the complainant in the case. It was he who had made two complaints to the Director of National Police Academy against the appellant before lodging the FIR.
The evidence of PW3, a handwriting expert, is not definite and cannot be said to be of a clinching nature to connect the appellant with the disputed letters. The evidence of an expert is a rather weak type of evidence and the courts do not generally consider it as offering ‘conclusive’ proof and therefore safe to rely upon the same without, seeking independent and reliable corroboration.
Section 67 of the Evidence Act enjoins that before a document can be looked into, it has to be proved. Section 67, of course, does not prescribe any particular mode of proof. Section 47 of the Evidence Act which occurs in the chapter relating to ‘relevancy of facts’ provides that the opinion of a person who is acquainted with the handwriting of a particular person is a relevant fact. Similarly, opinion of a handwriting expert is also a relevant fact for identifying any handwriting. The ordinary method of proving a document is by calling as a witness the person who had executed the document or saw it being executed or signed or is otherwise qualified and competent to express his opinion as to the handwriting. There are some other modes of proof of documents also as by comparison of the handwriting as envisaged under Section 73 of the Evidence Act or through the evidence of a handwriting expert under Section 45 of the Act, besides by the admission of the person against whom the document is intended to be used. The receiver of the document, on establishing his acquaintance with the handwriting of the person and competence to identify the writing with which he is familiar, may also prove a document. These modes are legitimate methods of proving documents but before they can be accepted they must bear sufficient strength to carry conviction. Keeping in view the in-conclusive and indefinite nature of the evidence of the handwriting expert PW 3 and the lack of competence on the part of Narayana Reddy to be familiar with the handwriting of the appellant, the approach adopted by the courts below to arrive at the conclusion that the disputed letters were written by the appellant to Ms Vani was not proper.
It appears that the demand of dowry was made by the second accused, the elder brother of the appellant and that no such demand is established to have been directly made by the appellant. The evidence on the record does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any demand of dowry within the meaning of Section 2 read with Section 4 of the Act was made by the appellant. He is, therefore, entitled to the benefit of a doubt. The appeal was thus allowed. The conviction and sentence of the appellant were hereby set aside.